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15 Things to do in Mendocino on Your Next Vacation

15 Things to do in Mendocino on Your Next Vacation

With towering redwoods, jagged cliffs, and fairytale-esque Victorian mansions, Mendocino is the NorCal vacation you want to take next.


7 min read

May 02, 2021

Do you remember the last time you skipped the city staycation and explored a sleepy beach town instead? If it’s been a while, then you know it’s time to plan a getaway to Mendocino. With towering redwoods, jagged cliffs, and fairytale-esque Victorian mansions, this coastal beauty is the NorCal vacation you'll want to take next.

Let the hectic nature of city life give way to fresh bustling breezes, and disconnect from everyday life at the town’s luxurious camping destinations. Lose yourself in Mendocino’s old-growth forests and stay green at one of the top Mendocino attractions. Stroll along the streets of this pedestrian paradise and admire the artistic touches found on every corner. While there are countless activities to choose from, here are the top things to do in Mendocino

The Best Things to Do in Mendocino and the Surrounding Areas 

Dreaming of a small rural retreat to escape the bustling city? Head to the Mendocino Bay Viewpoint for whale watching and admiring the ocean.

Stop by the Mendocino Bay Viewpoint 

If you don’t have Instagram-worthy photos of your Mendocino getaway, did it even happen? Make your trip count by heading to the Mendocino Bay Viewpoint to capture the most gorgeous bluffs you’ve ever seen. Keep an eye out for whales, paint plein-air, or put your feet up and watch the seagulls fly by—whatever floats your boat.

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Canoe down Big River

Paddle up near otters and seals at Big River—one of the top fun things to do in Mendocino. Dense redwood forests line the banks of the river, so bask in the California sun as you admire the flowing river waters and forested shores.

Catch a Canoe and Bicycles Too! is a local company that offers guided tours, bike rentals, and outrigger canoes. Take the wooden Polynesian-style canoe out on the waters while looking out for animals. If you want a more peaceful paddle, head out in the morning—the afternoon winds will give you a more intense workout.

Visit the Mendocino Art Center

Get your creative juices flowing at Mendocino’s most expressive center. Since its establishment in 1959, the Mendocino Art Center (open during normal circumstances) has nurtured local talent, offering over 150 classes annually. What’s your pick? Sculptures, fiber art, ceramics...the art center has it all. 

If you’re searching for the best things to do in Mendocino, visit the center’s mixed-media exhibitions. Admire the curated creations from emerging Mendocino talent while discovering the coastal village's culture.

Encompassing 913,306 acres of lush greenery, the Mendocino National Forest is the only one in California without a major paved road in it.

Things to Do in Mendocino National Forest

Spanning 330,00 acres of land, the Mendocino National Forest is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Located less than three hours away from San Francisco, this lush grove rises from near sea level to above 7,000-feet in elevation—we’re dizzy just thinking about it. Traversing nearly 100 miles of forest and observing dozens of different ecosystems makes this trip to one of California’s best forests a must. The Mendocino National Forest offers plenty of things to do, and without further ado, here are a few. 

The Mendocino National Forest consists of 4 wilderness areas—Sanhedrin, Snow Mountain, Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel, and Yuki Wilderness Areas.

Go Hiking 

Explore for an hour, an afternoon, or the whole day at Mendocino National Forest. Stunning views await you along numerous trails. We suggest exploring Thomes George Trail, Bloody Rock Trail, and Travelers Home Trail for unparalleled adventure in nature’s serene scene. Since the Mendocino terrain is varied, keep difficulty in mind when deciding which trail is right for you.

Pitch a Tent

With the many developed campgrounds scattered in the area, you’ll have an amazing time camping at this Mendocino attraction. If you’re an Aquarius, Virgo, or any other zodiac sign drawn to national forests, stock up on marshmallows and head straight to the forest. Come during spring to wander through blossoming lupine, poppies, and lilacs. If you were wondering what things you should do in Mendocino National Forest, now you know. 

Bring your camera and snap away in Mendocino National Forest. Whether you like plants or wild animals, you'll have plenty of photo ops here.

Practice Wildlife Photography 

If capturing the essence of wildlife is your thing, then you best head to the forest to photograph the colorful manzanitas and California lilacs. In addition to capturing blue-and-gold fields, capture grazing deer, tule elk, wild pigs, and black bears. May your camera be the guide to this forest—prepare yourself for fantastic shots.

Things to Do near Mendocino

Love the outdoors and want to squeeze in a little exercise? Cycle along Big River Haul Road and head to Mendocino Woodlands State Park.

Bike along Big River Haul Road 

Sky-high redwoods, old railway structures, and interpretive plaques—the Big River Haul Road Biking Trail is the place to be. Cycling along this unpaved road is one of the coolest things to do in Mendocino, and for good reason. 

The trail spans 20 miles, leading you to Jackson Demonstration State Forest and Mendocino Woodlands State Park. A bike ride is a great activity on any affordable romantic getaway, so savor the sunset views as you cycle with your partner. While you’re biking, peek above you—soaring blue herons will join your ride.

The Temple was made using local redwood in the mid-19th century and is one of the oldest continuously used Chinese temples in California.

Visit the Temple of Kwan Tai

Home to a significant Chinese community, Mendocino boasts the oldest Tao temple in state history. Nine steps lead you up to the Temple of Kwan Tai, a staple of the area's multicultural heritage and one of the best things to see in Mendocino. This original Taoist temple is a California Registered Historic Landmark and a must-visit.

Fun Things to Do in Mendocino

Each year from November to February, visit the Mendocino coast to view migrating gray whales traveling from Alaska to Mexico.

Go Whale Watching 

This peaceful activity is one of the most incredible things to do on the Mendocino Coast. If you’re visiting between November and April, whale-watching should definitely be on your list. As gray whales migrate south to the warm Golden State waters, observe their journey and marvel at these colossal creatures. Pick a nice watchpoint on the shore, pack your binoculars, and let the giant whales leave you speechless.

Attend a Farmer’s Market 

Trying to figure out what things locals do in Mendocino? They visit the farmers markets, of course. Reward your senses at one of the seven farmers markets in Mendocino County. A vibrant burst of colors, scents, and textures await you—enjoy tunes and laid-back vibes as you hunt and gather your favorite fruits and veggies. Olives, pears, and greens of all kinds are offered by certified local farms. Stock up on fresh produce and support local vendors while living the eco-friendly lifestyle

The best way to experience Mendocino is by living like a local. Head to any of the farmers markets and check out the local produce.

Scout for Artisan Treasures 

With a vibe that’s both intimate and universally artistic, Mendocino’s an artisanal goldmine. Stroll the eclectic streets for creative influence. You’ll come across bookstores, galleries, and boutiques. Whether you’re compiling a summer reading list or shopping for sustainable clothes, Mendocino is the place to visit for all that and more.

Pick your Adventure at Van Damme State Park

One of the top places to visit in Mendocino is the 1,800-acre Van Damme State Park. Jogging, cycling, hiking, and birdwatching are all options to explore year-round. As far as outdoorsy things to do near Mendocino go, Van Damme’s your best bet. The fern-filled forest features a secluded scenic beach. Van Damme State Park also provides a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors.

Things to Do Along the Mendocino Coast 

Point Arena Lighthouse is 115 feet tall and located on 23 scenic coastal acres. Visit this Mendocino gem to make your trip even more memorable.

Climb the historic Point Arena Lighthouse 

The closest point to Hawaii from the continental U.S. is the iconic Point Arena Lighthouse (open during normal circumstances). Recognized as one of the top things to see in Mendocino, climb up the winding staircase for a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. Take in the fresh coastal air when you reach the top of this 115-foot lighthouse.

Located next to MacKerricher State Park, Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is visited by tens of thousands of tourists every year.

Check out Glass Beach

Legend has it, every time a sailor is lost at sea, mermaids cry. Their tears are then transformed into sea glass that washes up on the shore. You just might start believing in these fascinating tales at Glass Beach.

Located in Fort Bragg, Glass Beach is one of the best beaches to visit, even in the cold. Instead of regular white sand, find yourself mesmerized by thousands of colorful glass pebbles. Don’t be tempted to collect the sea glass, though—it’s forbidden.

Tour the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Still looking for things to do near Mendocino? Stay in Fort Bragg after visiting Glass Beach to check out the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Sitting on 47 acres of coastal land, the gardens are surrounded by canyons, wetlands, and coastal bluffs. Towering trees, chromatic dahlias, and succulents the size of wedding bouquets—this lush preserve is where spring never ends. 

Get lost in the gardens’ largest collection—a sea of rhododendrons featuring more than 125 species of flowering shrubs. 

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